Book review: Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work

Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan. Published by White Lion

One day, nearly thirty years ago, a young bearded man in a black suit ran across a road and was immediately hit by a car. Despite flying into and breaking the car’s windscreen, the hoodlum is soon on his feet again and pointing a gun at the unfortunate driver. As the scene is filmed from the driver’s perspective, it almost feels like we, the ones in the audience, are the ones being carjacked.

The carjacker was one ‘Mr Pink’ played by Steve Buscemi. The film was Reservoir Dogs and with its release, the career of film director, Quentin Tarantino had begun.

The years ahead would see the film’s director, Tarantino become so cool that for a while, it seemed possible that the name ‘Quentin’ might actually become cool in itself. In the end, despite the continued popularity of artist Quentin Blake, this never quite happened. But, as with his earlier fine, nicely presented coffee table books on the Coens and Tim Burton, distinguished film critic, Ian Nathan’s book on the video shop employee turned director, reminds us why Tarantino largely deserved all the subsequent fuss that was made about him.

The 1990s was a great time for Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs, a film about a robbery we never see and notorious for an ear removal scene we also never see, featured career-best performances from all its excellent all-male cast. Perhaps only Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi have done better work elsewhere and even they are better in this than anyone else.

Why is it called Reservoir Dogs? The book suggests the issue – as with the answer to the question, “who shot Nice Guy Eddie?”- is a mystery known only to Tarantino himsel). My own theory: the main characters’ behaviour resembles a pack of wild, stray dogs living near a reservoir, fighting each other, betraying each other to survive. But I’ve no idea whether this has any basis in fact. Do stray dogs even live near reservoirs and behave like this? I’ve no idea.

The Nice Guy Eddie ‘mystery’ is more easily explicable, however. The ‘shooting’ of the character, played by the late Chris Penn, was actually the result of a technical error. The ‘squibs’ which stimulated his gunshot wounds went off, exploding prematurely. Tarantino, cannily recognising the potential for controversy, deliberately left the mistake in the finished film. So basically nobody shot him.

Next up, was Pulp Fiction, the film where Tarantino fulfilled his promise. Then came Jackie Brown, the Kill Bills, Inglourious Basterds, the westerns and this year’s triumphant but flawed Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. I am fully aware I have not covered Tarantino’s body of work fully here. Rest assured: Ian Nathan does. The lone exception is Once Upon A Time… which is touched upon, but was obviously released too late for the book.

But in every other respect, as a crash course in Tarantino, this is second only to watching the films themselves.

Book review: Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know

Book review: Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know. By Ian Haydn Smith. Illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Published by: White Lion. Out now.

What makes a cult filmmaker? The key qualities seem to be distinctiveness and a degree of obscurity. Hitchcock and Spielberg were and are great filmmakers, but both are much too famous now to be included in a volume like this. Hitchcock might have appeared once. Spielberg too, perhaps in the brief interim after the release of Dual but before Jaws. But not now.

Indeed, it could argued that just by highlighting the fifty directors included in this volume in a book specifically titled, ‘Cult Filmmakers’, author Ian Haydn Smith is simultaneously undermining their cult status as much as he is re-enforcing it.

That is not to attack the book, which is a good one. The author’s choices are intriguing and it is almost as interesting to see who has been left out as it is to see who has been included. Sam Raimi doesn’t feature. Nor does Wes Anderson or the Coens. Presumably, the men behind The Evil Dead, Blood Simple and Rushmore would have been considered cult filmmakers once. However, they are now ineligible as they’ve all moved onto more mainstream successes as the men behind Spiderman, Intolerable Cruelty and Isle of Dogs.

But if this is the reason, it’s odd that the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Kathryn Bigelow are. Other selections are less contentious: David Lynch, David Cronenberg and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters, have all achieved fame, while retaining their cult status. Some such as John Carpenter seem to have lost their initial cultiness, only to later recapture it.

The book is stylishly illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Occasionally, the pictures look nothing like their subjects e.g. Terry Gilliam. It doesn’t matter.

Personally, I am most grateful for the chapters shedding light on Amat Escalante, Benjamin Christensen and Barbara Loden, amongst others. Until this book, they were undeniably in my eyes, cult filmmakers: I had never heard of any of them. But now I do. And this can only be a good thing.

Dawn of the Planet of the Geeks

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Once upon a time, nobody wanted to be a geek.

Geeks were stamp collectors, train spotters or computer nerds. Who would ever want to be one of them? James Bond. Rocky. Han Solo. They were heroes. Nobody wanted to be Roland from Grange Hill. Everybody wanted to be Tucker Jenkins. Dennis the Menace trounced Softy Walter every time.

Then, in the Eighties and Nineties, things started to change. Geeks like Bill Gates and Richard Branson became role models. Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith were notably more geeky than their drug-addled hedonistic Seventies counterparts. The films started to reflect this  with even superficially cool characters like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly and Indiana Jones (who is, of course, an archaeologist) having a geeky side.

By the end of the 20th century, films like Clerks and TV shows like Spaced and Freaks and Geeks were close to celebrating geek culture. Mainstream characters in shows like Friends and Seinfeld also started aping geek behaviour.

Now, far from being shunned, thanks to shows like The IT Crowd (now finished) and The Big Bang Theory, geeks are not only shunned but celebrated. There is now tons of pro-geek merchandise available. There is a popular website called Den of Geek. Actors like Tobey Maguire, Zooey Deschanel, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Eisenberg (who memorably played Facebook founder and geek Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network) are hailed as geeks. Truly, as The Bible almost says: “the geek have inherited the Earth”.

The problem is that there are still plenty of real genuinely socially maladjusted geeks around without pretend geeks homing in on their territory. The other day, an attractive female participant on Channel 4’s First Dates proudly claimed to be a geek. Yes, she wore glasses. Yes, she was a computer programmer. But was she a geek? No way.

This has to stop.  Leave the realm of geeks to the real genuine geeks: the addictive Warcraft players, the Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts (yes, there are still many around) and the obsessive bloggers. Ahem.

Bear in mind these simple rules:

Wearing glasses is not enough in itself to make you a geek. Nor is it even necessary. Zooey Deschanel is kooky, yes, but much too attractive and sociable to have ever been a geek. Wearing glasses just means you have defective eyesight and don’t like contact lenses. And they often look cool now anyway (see below).

Watching Game of Thrones is not enough in itself. Or The Hobbit. Or Star Wars. Or Iron Man. Or computer games. All of these things are mainstream now. However, have you read more than one Game of Thrones book? Now, you’re on your way.

You cannot like sport and be a geek.

Finally, and most importantly: if you really want to be a geek, face facts:  you will never truly be one. You might as well try to be genuinely cool.

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